Recently I got to read two fine papers on Citizen Police engagement in Lahore and Citizen Safety as public policy – both produced in Pakistan and published after rigorous work required of an economics research paper. Most interestingly, they deal with the idea of policing as a public good and therefore, requiring due data and analysis to constantly calibrate the delivery of services for optimum results in public safety.
The papers show that the crime victimisation and safety perception survey in Lahore has thrown up very clear findings on what needs to be done as a policy measure to make citizens feel safer and make policing more effective. One of the papers has also used the data of the crime victimisation survey done in New Delhi by CHRI in 2015 for comparing victimisation rate of New Delhi with Lahore.
What insights do these papers from Pakistan give us?
1. Much more than Pakistan, India is a rapidly urbanising country, urbanisation being actively egged on by India’s 100 Smart Cities project. Policing in these transition times, to be really effective, needs quick and frequent inputs from scientific studies on the ground. These studies should feed into overall state policy so that the various impacting issues like labour, employment, urban housing, urban healthcare etc can get integrated for building safety into the evolving urbanisation.
2. Police, because of its mandate to keep crime and public disturbances at bay, is given enormous legal powers over members of society. The counter weight to these enormous powers is the judicial scrutiny over results of police investigations after they are completed, and the protection against misuse of arrest powers offered by bail and such other provisions by the courts while the investigation is on. This system of large legal powers and effectively appropriate judicial scrutiny should lead to great trust of the police by the people. However, the volume of the problem of crime is so much that these accountability measures cannot have the same level of effectiveness as envisaged and instead leads to fear of the police in the common man.
Clearly, the problem needs to be looked at from outside the box. Annual or 6-Monthly Crime victimisation and safety perception surveys offer one such alternative way to increase the accountability of police institutions at the people level-that is in the police stations. Therefore, in India we should use Crime victimisation surveys not only to understand ground conditions vis a vis police crime data but also to change attitudes of the power wielding police stations vis a vis the people. There is great hope for changing the policing culture in India with this methodology.